You know that ol’ basketball maxim regarding the first home game after a road trip being particularly tough upon which to focus?
Before pulling away from a peppy Oklahoma City squad first in the final six minutes of the second quarter and finally in the fourth, the Lakers fell into that trap for stretches of Tuesday evening’s contest at STAPLES Center.
After casually strolling through the opening stanza to a 25-all tie, the Lakers turned up the juice in the second quarter, clapping the Thunder with a 21-6 run – including 11 points from Kobe Bryant – to take a commanding 60-47 lead into halftime. The purple and gold then took a collective nap as the baby-blue-and-orange clad visitors cut that lead to four near the start of the fourth quarter. No ultimate worries, however, as L.A.’s bench quickly built the lead back to a 10-point comfort zone that the starters would protect in the final minutes.
But why, you’re wondering, would the Lakers not completely hammer a far inferior team featuring two rookies and two second year players in the starting lineup? Certainly, the relative let-down is interesting, if not expected; No matter how tough Phil Jackson and his assistants told their players that OKC was going to play, it was understandably a bit difficult for the Lakers to bestow full respect on a 13-38 team that the holders of the NBA’s best record “knew” they would beat (oh wait … Charlotte … oops!). Hard it is to match the intensity that a team like the Thunder may bring in let’s-test-and-prove-our-worth mode, but surely the result was never in doubt, and getting the win was paramount to keep the momentum train generated during a fantastic 6-0 road trip on the tracks.
One downside of letting OKC stick around for awhile? Pau Gasol played 42 minutes after averaging 43 minutes since Andrew Bynum went down. That’s no good for L.A., particularly not with Utah looming the following day.
Alas, Gasol joined fellow All-Star Bryant and recently-reborn Lamar Odom in filling up the box score: Bryant finished with a game-high 34 points plus seven boards; Gasol chipped in 22 points, 14 rebounds and four dimes; and Odom backed up his 28 and 17 on Cleveland with 12 points and a season-high 18 boards.
More numbers upon which to chew:
Kobe Bryant’s rank in “Youngest to 23,000 points” after he surpassed (preceded?) Wilt Chamberlain’s record in the second quarter.
Points off the bench from Sasha Vujacic … and Jordan Farmar … and Trevor Ariza. Farmar added five dimes and Ariza three to L.A.’s effort.
Rebounds by Lamar Odom to surpass his 17 glass cleans in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon. Eleven of those glass cleans came in the first half, and five on the offensive board.
Points for second-year stud Kevin Durant on 10-of-23 shooting, plus 10-of-11 from the line. Durant added 10 boards and four dimes.
Shooting percentage for the Thunder, who relied primarily on jump shots. L.A. shot 45.5 percent from the field.
Points in the paint for the Lakers. In the first half. The Thunder, meanwhile, took nothing but jumpers in scoring just 18 paint points.
First half points from the Lakers on 50.9 percent shooting, including 21 in the final six minutes of the second quarter.